On June 5, 2022, Silom’s streets were lined with banners and people donning rainbow colors, marking Thailand’s first Pride Parade since 2006. The massive presence of and support for the LGBTQIA+ community signifies a shift in the public’s attitude, fuelling hopes for a more inclusive future in the country.
A Brief Overview of LGBTQIA+ History in Asia
In Asia, there has also been historical awareness of various sexual orientations and gender identities. In Thailand, for instance, the term kathoey can be traced back to Buddhist scriptures detailing four different genders. A similar case can be found in Indonesia where legends have described the existence of “diverse gender expressions and identities.” LGBTQIA+ rights have clearly come a long way. Today, same-sex marriage is legal in 31 countries. Regardless, it is important to note that despite the roots of the gay rights movement in the late 1960s, it was only declassified as a mental illness in 1973 whilst same-sex marriage was only recently legalized in 2000 after having been passed by the Dutch parliament.
Progress of LGBTQIA+ Rights in Asia
Asia has also seen progress in guaranteeing equality for its LGBTQIA+ citizens. Taiwan, for example, became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019. Thailand brands itself as an LGBTQIA+-friendly country as well, renowned for its beauty pageants for transgender people, and is a major destination for gender reassignment surgery. A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage also recently passed its first reading, marking greater strides towards marriage equality in the country. Moreover, Thailand and the Philippines have passed laws criminalizing discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. Evidently, the region has taken steps to ensure a potentially more equal future. But potential alone is not enough.
More Needs to Be Done
In spite of these efforts, Asia has many more challenges to overcome before becoming truly accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community. Homophobia continues to persist in the region where consensual sex between people of the same gender is still illegal in countries such as Singapore, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Here in Thailand, regardless of its seemingly welcoming environment, over half of LGBTQIA+ survey respondents had experienced being verbally harassed, while some were also survivors of sexual assault. One way for Thailand to improve its track record is by improving its approach to sex education. Currently, Thai schools only teach the topic from a “biological perspective” and neglect other aspects of sex education such as “sexual wellbeing.” Furthermore, homosexuality is demonized by the education system. In fact, some textbooks even label LGBTQIA+ individuals as “sexual deviants.” Doing so is not only propagating misinformation to impressionable children but also ostracises vulnerable LGBTQIA+ youth.
There is no doubt that there has been monumental global progress in securing LGBTQIA+ rights. The past few years have seen improved legal protection of the LGBTQIA+ community and steps toward equal rights for all. Many more obstacles, however, remain to be tackled. As this year’s Pride month comes to a close, it is important to remember that the fight for equality does not end here.
– Isabelle Amurao
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